When Antonio Jardine discovered that his 10-year-old grandson was hiding a realistic-looking toy gun in his house, he took action.
The 47-year-old grandfather not only confiscated the toy, he stormed into the bodega at 29th and Lehigh that sold it to demand that the store stop selling them. His actions were captured on a dramatic and much-viewed video this month. The video, tweeted by public relations guru Antoine Johnson, shows Jardine, accompanied by anti-violence activists Anton Moore and Terry Starks and others, inside the Lehigh Ave. Super Market confronting store workers.
“You think this is cool for a kid to come buy? Do you see what this gun do?” Jardine yells on video as he points to the toy 9mm in his hand. “You fill it up [with BB pellets], then do like this, and they cock it back like this, and they shoot them, right?
“Now, what if he takes a black Magic Marker and paint this black,” Jardine says, pointing at the toy’s orange plastic tip. “Then what we got? You know. He know. All y’all know."
Although the encounter started out confrontational, it ended amicably, with workers agreeing to stop selling the toy guns. It was a small victory, but at a time when it’s hard to make a dent in the city’s relentless gun problem, it was a victory nonetheless. (The encounter linked in the video below was edited for language.)
When I stopped by the corner store Monday, two workers assured me they no longer sold toy guns. Jardine, who lives a block away, has been conducting his own inspections as well.
“I don’t like water guns, cap guns, none of that for our kids. Not in this era,” Jardine told me. “Because it’s a gun epidemic, and we don’t need our kids to know how to load a gun at 10 years old.”
He said the toy gun, which his grandson had been hiding in his basement, cost the child just $3.99.
Starks, founder of Express Urself Urban Crisis Response Center, said neighborhood boys run in packs around North Philly carrying toy guns. “They’re having fake shootouts with those guns,” he said.
I shivered at the sound of that. I grew up playing with my brother’s innocuous silver cap guns, but this is a whole new day. Some of today’s BB guns are disturbingly realistic, even with the bright orange plastic tips required by law to distinguish them from the real thing. Children shouldn’t be allowed to play with them. It’s too risky.
In August, a 13-year-old Grays Ferry boy with a promising future was arrested for allegedly shooting the son of a Philadelphia police officer with a plastic pellet from a toy gun. The charges against him eventually were dropped, but not before the boy spent three scary nights in custody.
And then there’s the tragic case of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Cleveland boy killed in 2014 after he was spotted with a lifelike air-soft-style gun. It’s heartbreaking to think of how he had been casually playing with it in a park and had thrown a snowball only moments before being shot dead by an officer who assumed he was brandishing the real thing.
I applaud Jardine for not shrugging off the fact that his grandson had a toy gun.
“It bothered me,” Jardine told me. "It bothered my wife, and I needed somebody to do something.”
Instead of waiting for some outside authority to swoop in, he and the other concerned men joined together and made their displeasure known. We need more men to stand up like that, not just about toy guns but about other ills plaguing our neighborhoods.
After the video got nearly 200,000 views, Jardine’s not really worried about the workers going back on their word. “I think they got the idea," he said, “because of how viral it went.”